Posted: Sept. 29, 2011


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The University of Delaware is having another one of those presidential moments.

The reason is the Republicans and Chris Christie are making eyes at each other over the nomination. It is like something out of "Fantasia," as if the party's elephant mascots were waltzing with William Howard Taft.

Christie is not only the governor of New Jersey but also a University of Delaware grad, class of '84. He once told a campus publication he mailed in his ballot for Ronald Reagan from here.

The courtship of Christie sets up the most fanciful combination of political "Double Dels" the university could wish for, Christie for the Republicans and Joe Biden, UD class of '65, running again for vice president for the Democrats in 2012.

A university can dream, right?

"There should be sugar plums dancing in the University of Delaware head," said Ralph Begleiter, a former CNN correspondent who runs the university's Center for Political Communication.

The university is awash with its new prominence in the upper reaches of politics, typically filled by the likes of Harvard (Obama) and Yale (Clinton and the Bushes.)

It was on full display Wednesday evening as Begleiter hosted a session in Mitchell Hall on the Newark campus with Steve Schmidt and Chris Lehane, both high-powered political consultants.

When the university moved into the presidential arena in 2008, it got there not just because of Biden. It also had Schmidt and David Plouffe, a pair of former students.

Schmidt ran John McCain's operation for the Republicans, and Plouffe handled Barack Obama's campaign for the Democrats. (Lehane, a Democrat who teams with Schmidt as consultants on ballot initiatives, is one of those Harvard Law types.)

Throughout the session with Schmidt and Lehane, the local references were everywhere.

Schmidt, as it turned out, was celebrating the 20th anniversary of his 21st birthday at the Stone Balloon, the defunct nightspot that was once the place to come of age in Newark.

Nor did it go unnoticed that Valerie Biden Owens, who calls herself the vice sister, was in attendance. She is also a political consultant, slated to be back on campus next month for another session hosted by Begleiter.

With all those political operatives in the house, it was inevitable there would be talk about Christie, given his university ties and the current fixation on him. Not that Schmidt or Lehane could guess whether Christie would get in or stay out.

How out of character it seems. Who knew the snappy governor who told the tourists to get the hell off the beach could not get the hell off the fence?

If he did get in, Schmidt noted Christie could be problematic for the Democrats because he could be competitive in the Northeast and appeal to young voters, while Lehane wondered if Christie was really prepared for the crucible of presidential politics.

As the discussion ranged away from Christie, it brought out some particularly frank observations from Schmidt about his fellow Republicans.

On Sarah Palin's selection as the vice presidential candidate: "Someone who was totally unprepared and unqualified to be president."

On the booing over the gay soldier stationed in Iraq during the presidential debate last week: "The lowest moment of the Republican Party in my lifetime."

On the 2010 Senate election in Delaware: "I would absolutely have voted for the Democrat in the Senate race against Christine O'Donnell. She was no more qualified to be in the United States Senate than my four-year-old."

Politics comes in many colors. It can be Democratic blue. It can be Republican red. On this night it was Delaware blue and gold.